It was a summer of tree climbing, front porch sitting, walks to the library and the community pool with friends. There may have also been a little cigarette smoking and joy riding.
Front porches were one of our favorite summer perches, and we noticed a short, middle-aged man with a pot belly and sandy brown hair, feathered back like Shaun Cassidy who started by walking past the house once a day, then multiple times a day.
For the first few weeks he never spoke a word, he just circled. Gradually he became brave, and began making little comments, then sexual comments that grew more crude as the days went by.
As he grew brave, we grew brave too, “Pervert!” We would yell back at him from the safety of a porch. Then a shift happened and some of our phones began to ring, only to hear breathing and sexual threats, the kind of threats that are thick and heavy making your stomach roll and skin crawl.
We were smart enough to know that this danger had become real and parents were told. Word flew around the neighborhood that danger was lurking, and it was hunting their children. Suddenly the hairs on the back of necks were raised, eyes were wide and alert.
I was walking home from the library one late afternoon the sky was blue, the sun warm and books were tucked under my arm. With not a care on my mind I walked and daydreamed. Suddenly Mom pulled up beside me. “Get in the car,” she hissed. The kind of hiss that meant I was in big trouble, or something terrible had happened.
Even on the sunniest day darkness can dwell, and it turned out the predator had been tailing me and I hadn’t even noticed. A friend’s mother had been driving by, her mama bear instincts sensing danger, and she rushed home to call my mother. Mom dropped everything to come rescue the clueless prey from her predator.
Late that summer Dad and his friend happened to spot the man walking and pulled their pickup right up onto the sidewalk behind him. In an instant the predator had become the prey.
As my Dad would tell it, they pushed him up against the pick-up truck, roughed him up, and then threatened him within an inch of his life. They reminded him that if he looked or spoke to any child in the neighborhood again, they would simply run that old truck right over him.
I remember feeling so proud and protected. Grateful to my friend’s mother, who was normally quiet and reserved, for sounding the alarm. Thankful for my mother who would drop everything to come to my rescue and cheering inside for a strong father and his fellow vigilante, who made it their business to protect children from the predators of this world.